Saturday, 31 July 2010

A day of npwmg stuff

I have spent the day trying to sort out various online bits and pieces for the National Police Web Managers Group.  Although I'm not there yet, I now have a website, blog, group, twitter and email set up. I need to regroup tomorrow and work out security and permission so the right people can access and contribute and the wrong people are blocked.

Thats it for now - any feedback welcome via Twitter @beaker9.

Live Meetings

Just read that Nick Herbert MP is doing a live online Q&A session on on Monday Aug 2, 2010 at 11am, discussing 21st Century Policing.  They will be using

I tried out one of these online meetings which was hosted recently by Whitbey neighbourhood police officers. They ran it as a live text only meeting but Cover it Live can also support video and audio live meetings too.  As the Home Office are using it, I think it is likely to be a good candidate for a system which we could use for a national live meetings system.  Does anyone know of any other similar live online systems which could offer a good environment for public consultation. Maybe there are free alternatives?  Google Wave look tantalizingly useful but I've not yet had time to understand exactly what it is and how it works. Likewise, Google Talk with the audio and video add ons could also be useful.  Skype seems to have a '5 users at a time' limit and then there are all those other IM offerings too.  I think we should experiment with some of these services with a view to finding something we could use to develop a live public chat/video/audio service to be used alongside a public meeting or as an alternative.

The Times - three great articles you must read

The Saturday Times has done a great job this weekend on the 21st Century Policing paper, smartphone apps and The Big Society.

21st Century Policing - article page 22 by Sean ONeill
"Police shake-up is tackling all the wrong problems"

Does the Big Society exist? Yes (but only in Windsor) - Weekend pages 8&9 by Tanya Gold
"I do not find a single person, big or small, who knows what the Big Society is or where to find it"

The man who mistook his wife for an app - ideas/technology, the review - page 4 by Hugo Rifkind
"'Half a kilo of ham, please,' I say into my Motorola. "Thomas Aquinas?' my phone says"

All very good.  Recommended reading this weekend.

Mockingbird to the rescue

First draft in Mockingbird
Thanks to John for the Mockingbird reminder.  I have used it to shove together a very basic first draft of a typical force website layout based on the initial research from my previous blog entries from last week.

It shows an overall top bar like the BBC intended to remain throughout all police force sites as an anchor.  It contains a national police graphic ident of some description - typical things would include the checker squares but we can think of something more imaginative than that. The basic navigation which appear to be common to all police sites - this just clears space for more content below. The search is also a universal feature of most sites so this can serve as a search engine and a way to set locality either by postcode or placename - we should be able to use the same search box for both functions and save more space.

The orange section is where the local force identity is established. Common elements like the force crest, force name and motto can all go in here.  I have put in some social media icons but there is space for customisation for text, photos, links and content specific to each force. The general principle is to keep the logo to the left and the height of the orange box constant to aid cross-border navigation.

Next comes an area taken from the BBC homepage layout - a large area containing an impactive photo or image with flexibility for text links below or to the side plus three smaller boxes to the right. At a national level the content of these boxes can be flexible and set to some key national or generic police news stories nominated by any force and democratically elected to the 'top spot'.  It could be general content or features, also nominated and planned by all forces together or maybe under the control of a smaller group of elected reps. At a local force level, the content in these boxes becomes controlled by the force web manager.

The area below is also copied from the BBC homepage and uses a three column layout. This area is populated by widgets which can be 1, 2 or 3 columns wide and of variable depth as dictated by the content. The widgets are or uniform fixed width so the user can add, modify or delete according to their preference.

News widget
This can work at multiple levels depending on site depth.

1. Nationally - it can show news from any police source and possibly mash external sources like the BBC. Refinements can be made to topics of interest by keyword searches which can be saved. In this way a sophisticated set of interests can be built up to refine the news at this level. In this sense it could work a bit like Twitter - by following more sources and topics you refine the news mix you receive. By extending the mix outside of traditional police topics, we can work towards our national page being more attractive to be used as a 'home page' as our news service can be adapted to suit interests beyond traditional policing topics.

2. Force level - Exactly the same concept except that the focus starts by default on force level news.  The user can still refine the mix by bringing in news from another force area to suit where they work or perhaps where relatives live elsewhere in the UK. The key thing is that as soon as they designate a local area by placename or postcode, the site immediately converts to the local force site from that point.

3. Neighbourhood level - News articles should be pinpointed to a local level wherever possible.  This should be done either by Geocode, postcode or tags to a standard area shape - ward, neighbourhood, district etc. As long as the lowest level locator is known, higher level areas can be calculated automatically. The news mix can be refined as people navigate to neighbourhood areas of the site as well as by topic.  An article about domestic violence should bring back recent news articles and display them as possible links for further reading.  Some kind of weighting system could be put into place so that news from outside the force or even from an external source could be offered if it is calculated by the weighing engine to be of relevant value to the keywords in the feature article being viewed.

Other widgets
We should aim to develop widgets that start at a national level but which can be adapted and refined at force and neighbourhood levels also. Ultimately, we need to always consider what is of benefit to the user of the site rather than what is politically convenient for the organisation. People live increasingly transient lives and want to mix and match their content to suit their unique circumstances and not be confined by our self-imposed geographical or topical boundaries.

Friday, 30 July 2010

SIM car keys

I watched Police, Camera Action this week and saw a guy who was drink driving, had no insurance, tax or MOT - not even a driving licence.  He had already been banned once and this was his second ban - before he had even passed his test!

There must be a more secure and reliable way for modern IT and electronics to manage this.

MOT, insurance, tax and the driving licence are still paper-based.  In the 21st century, this must be wrong.  We need a new way to issue and validate these products so that they are useful and work for the law abiding citizen rather than pander to the whims of those who think it is fine to break the law.

So we have these four products issued as SIM cards similar to those in mobile phones.  2 are personal to the car and the other 2 are specific to the driver.  The tax and MOT sims are inserted into the car they belong to and are  validated via 3G networks when the ignition is started.  The other two sims (insurance and driving licence) go inside the car keys and are also validated via the 3G network.  4 lights on the dashboard with confirm each sim has been validated and only then can the car be started. If there is an issue with any of these devices, the car will not start.

This is bound to cost a lot of money and the benefits won't be realised until all cars/keys are compatible with a universal system but it worked for the seatbelt, remote central locking, and airbags. One added security addition could be a fingerprint reader in the key itself.  If the car keys are stolen and used in the car, it wouldn't work unless the key is turned by the registered owner.

Breadcrumbs & search

Busy evening.
First off, I counted breadcrumbs trails. 43 out of 53 sites had them, many with the words 'You are here' preceding the trail.

8 of the search engines are Google Custom search.

1 is powered by Google but not branded
1 search engine returned no results for any search term
1 search by atomz - page not found error
4 non-Google search produced good results
1 non-Google search produced good results and highlighted search term in resulted page.
4 non-Google search results were worse than a bog-standard Google search within site

I didn't finish this list because I got into a Skype call with James and Sasha regarding Ning.  We decided to renew a basic NING account for 1 year which has now been done.  We also set up a Google Group, Google Site, Google Blog and Google email address too.  All that was a bit complicated but I hope to get it all sorted out over the weekend and start sharing the various sites with the rest of the group.  All a bit premature but at least it is all started.

The small logo in the Group is just for a start - I will attempt to do a better one when I get time but if anyone else fancies picking up their pens and pencils (or Photoshop), feel free and join in.

Back to the search stuff above - it seems fairly obvious to me that paid for search engines which come as part of a CMS can never do any better than the basic Google site search (which is free). The issue may be getting recent web pages to index quickly with Google but I think this can be overcome by using Google Webmaster Tools.

Next idea is to do a mock-up of the BBC home page as a concept site.  I want to try and work out how a national police site and the force sites can site together.  There must be some element of continuity between all police sites but still a large element of uniqueness and local branding.  The balance between the two will be politically charged and very difficult to achieve so starting will some innocent drawings looks to be the best way to begin.  If we don't like the drawings, we can throw them away and try again!

Its late - I'm off.  See you tomorrow.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Footers 'r Us

Quick bit of stats work tonight - may prove interesting later so here goes.

I looked at the footers of about 53 police websites and noted what was in 'em.  Here's the results:

Footer content

Copyright notice - 36
Legal/Privacy statement - 28
Sitemap - 17
Accessibility - 14
Terms and Conditions - 14
Disclaimer - 10
Designed by - 8
Facebook - 8
Crimestoppers - 7
YouTube - 7
Languages - 7
Back to top - 7
Main navigation repeated as plain text - 5
FAQs - 5
FOI - 5
Non Urgent number - 5
Homepage link - 5
Twitter - 5
Neighbourhoods - 5
'Add This' share - 5
Browsealoud/listen to this page - 4
Search - 4
Main address/phone/minicom - 4
Feedback - 4
Print page - 4
About this site - 3
A-Z index - 3
Flickr - 3
Police Authority - 3
Contact Us - 3
'Not responsible for external links' - 3
Delicious/Diggit/Reddit/Stumble Upon - 3
Webmaster - 3
Links - 2
Anti Terror Hotline - 2
News - 2
999 - 2
Media Centre - 2
Force slogan - 2
Investors in People - 2
W3C sign - 2
CEOP web safety badge - 2
Access Keys - 2
Email to friend - 2

Plus 23 others all with 1 each . . .
What's new, link to this site, video, email newsletter, mobile version, DirectGov, Complaints, Report Crime, Victims of Crime, Last  updated, site tools, Safety camera partnership, Policing Pledge, Plain English Campaign, CCA Excellence Award, Hide your visit, Date/Time past edited, Charter Mark, Healthy Working Lives, Get Adobe Reader, Text Sizer (AAA), Zoom, Text only version.

I make that 67 different 'things' altogether. Phew!

Next I counted the overall number of items and links in the footer area of each page:
Footer items

3 items - 6
6 items - 5
7 items - 5
9 items - 4
10 items - 4
2 items - 3
4 items - 3
5 items - 3
8 items - 3
12 items - 3
14 items - 2
22 items - 2
1 item - 1
11 items - 1
13 items - 1
15 items - 1
16 items - 1
19 items - 1
21 items - 1

I'd say the average is about 7 - 10 items in the footer.

Last one for tonight.
Site layout (general pages, not the home page)

Left side navigation with a main content column and right side extras - 25
Left side navigation with a main column only - 20
Left side navigation with two equal content columns - 1
Right side navigation with a main column only - 2
Multi-level top navigation with a single content column - 2
Multi-level top navigation with a main column and right side extras - 1

Vast dominance of left side main navigation in all but 5 websites. It's also worth noting that all the websites are sized to fit (more or less) into a standard width 1024 pixel screen. Most were fixed width sites with a few variable width.  I'll get the figures on the exact totals tomorrow.  Variable width sites were 'all the rage' at one stage in an attempt to fill the available screen real estate. However, in recent years, with the advent of widescreen displays, it is increasingly difficult to design a good looking site which works squashed to the old 800 pixel limit all the way out to the higher resolution sizes 1440 pixels.  It seems more people are designing to a fixed width of about 960 pixels with a centered float for larger screen sizes.

One more thing - The emergence of the latest generation of smartphones like the iPhone have excellent browsers which allow the user to zoom in and over the web page.  I have found this method is better than using the equivalent 'mobile' version of the same site and it maybe that the need to design a specific 'mobile' version of sites will soon be no more.  Probably what is more important is the need to be very flexible with the data - offering it up in a usable format like XML so that it can be mashed into other applications in the spirit of  This may be a very good reason to develop sites in unison so the resulting data operates to a national schema in the same spirit as the neighbourhood data we all contribute to

Obvious datasets would be news, events, jobs and police stations data. I expect I'll expand on this topic in later blog entries.

Thats it for tonight - more tomorrow.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Screen grabs

Carrying on from yesterday's initial research where I took screen grabs of 60 UK police and related home pages, I have today taken similar grabs of some typical content pages and page footers.

The idea is to continue making observations about the areas where there are similarities between force sites and pointing out any reasonable observations as I go along.  I haven't structure the work yet - just going with the flow and seeing where it takes me next.  All the screen grabs are public in my Google Picasa web albums.  there should be a link to the most recent posts here.

I haven't got time tonight to start going through these grabs yet but some key similarities do stick out:

Most sites have the traditional top level navigation along the top with the rest on the left and a breadcrumbs trail along the top of the main content area.

Most sites do have a consistent footer area where such things as copyright, terms and other links lurk.

Most sites are designed in a three column traditional design with the navigation on the left, content in the middle and 'other stuff' on the right.

Police sites are generally blue with chequered squares.

I'll go no further tonight but in coming blog entries, I'll start to get into the detail of each aspect of the pages.  If you can offer any helpful advice or would like to offer to help (take your pick at this stage).  Tweet me @beaker9 and let me know what you think.

For those of you who were wondering, I am doing all this in my own time at the moment.

Nite all . .

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

A few police website facts

I started doing some preliminary research to find out to what extent a national police web service can co-exist with local force sites without upsetting too many people.  Initial results look good.

Crest and force name placement
I started by looking at the real basics with a view to a standardised top strip which could be customised for each force. Out of about 60 police-related websites, 56 have their main logo and name in the top left of the screen.

Search engines
44/60 sites had a search box in the top right corner with a further 8 top left. 9 of the search boxes were branded Google Custom search boxes.  Some other sites didn't have a visible search box but did have a hyperlink to a search facility.  We now have a standard top left logo, force name and optional strapline with a standard right side search box.

Top banner links
Next I looked at the various links offered in or around the top area of the websites. There were about 37 different terms, functions and hyperlinks in this area but the main ones are listed below:

1. Home
Sometimes listed on its own but usually the force crest or logo links back to the home page by default.

2. Accessibility 24/60

3. Site Map 23/60

4. Text Size 20/60 This was usually in the format of three letter As AAA

5. Non-emergency number 20/60

6. Contact Us 16/60

7. Browse Aloud or similar speach-to-text 12/60

8. Language or translate options 11/60

9. Links 9/60

10. 999 emergency number 8/60

Other popuar links were RSS feeds, FAQs, A-Z, text only, help and the ability to change the style sheet to high contrast black or other alternative colour schemes.

The rest were In your area, Index, News, Privacy, Terms, Index, Feedback, Link to this site, printer friendly, HQ, FOI, Police Stations, Login, Podcasts, Feedback, Recruitment, Date/time, Skip Navigation, Access Keys, Glossary, Twitter, You Tube and Facebook.

Postcode look-up
32/60 websites include a visible postcode and/or placename lookup facility on their homepages.  This functionality could be incorporated nationally with a single licence or process to ensure all forces get the most up-to-date data.  The same technology could be used to personalise the local site based on a postcode look-up.  Other material can be localised including news, jobs, neighbourhoods, graphics, photography, style sheets and layout.

Social Media
Facebook - 26
Twitter - 25
YouTube - 22
RSS - 17

Several forces are already using these 'Big Three' social media sites to expand beyond the traditional force website and out to where the people are.  "Fish where the fish are". Several forces are encouraging the use Twitter for individual neighbourhood officers and there is the potential to extend the use of social media for total neighbourhood engagement in addition to or instead of the existing website sections.

Other social media and output channels includes:
Flickr, Blogs, U Stream, Virgin Media, Mobiles and Smartphones, Kiosks, Sky and Delicious.  Many forces use the site to encourage the sharing of website content to other social media sites.

Website sections
Next up were the main website sections offered in the initial navigation structure.

In order were:

About Us - 50
Recruitment - 49
News/Appeals - 48
Contact Us - 41
Crime Prevention/Reduction/Be Safe and various others - 40
Neighbourhoods - 40
Documents, Information, Library etc - 28
FOI - 16
Access to Information - 13
FAQs - 11
Diversity - 10
Crime Maps - 8
Units/Departments/Divisions - 7
Police Authority - 7
Young People - 7
Policing Pledge - 6
Operations/Initiatives/Campaigns - 5
Get Involved - 4
Reporting Crime - 4
Victims and Witnesses - 4
Road Traffic - 4
Justice done - 4
Crimestoppers - 3
Online Services - 3
Firearms Licencing - 3
Links - 3

The top 6 or 7 are popular with the rest being significantly lower than the rest.  This may indicate we could standardise the main categories nationally and allow one or two extra custom sections up to the individual force.

At this point I started looking at how easy it would be to offer a main national system which could equally be utilised further down the stack in force/BCU/District/Neighoburhood/Ward and even postcode level data.

About Us
Is tricky without looking in further detail at which elements are common between forces. One to look at later on.

A national police news system would be an attractive first national solution.  One system rather than 48 with the advantage that individual articles could be shared freely by area but also by topic, date and media type.  Each news article can be tagged to the lowest possible area and a hierarchical area structure could determine the higher level areas automatically.  This would allow news to be re-distributed to any localised area of any website as well as within the traditional news sections.

Combining news nationally also means subscribers have more flexibility in the news mix they can receive.  As well as the specific local area, they can ask for news by topic or media type or even keyword search.

A sterile RSS news feed could be stengthened by giving options for a 'mix and match' RSS feed creation tool similar to the flexible RSS options available in Twitter where an RSS feed is available for search results.

This topic requires much more detailed discussion.

Recruitment 49/60
All police websites seem to have a very popular recruitment section.  One aspect ripe for national coordination is the police staff vacancies.  These are often offered as an RSS feed so a combined national solution could offer more flexible RSS feeds including job types, part time/full time, salary limits, keywords as well as the traditional area options.

As well as a single system for jobs, we could incorporate a single way of combining competiencies and job descriptions.  In time, we could move to a national online system for HR departments to sift, shortlist, interview, select and recruit before the candidate is transferred into the internal HR system.

The other areas of recruitment are very similar - police officer, specials, PCSOs, volunteers etc.  the existing website could be incorporated as the top level  recruitment data source with regional variations for each force added in the local layers (i.e. are we recruitment or not?)

Contact Us 41/60
Along with the various emergency and non emergency numbers (which should be standardised to 999 and 101 in my opinion), our best option in this area is a national crime and intelligence reporting system.

Crime Prevention/Reduction 40/60
There is already a rich national selection of good advice and best practice in the website and much of the content in individual forces is repeated.  There is an opportunity to centralise resources to create a first class crime reduction resource which is feature rich and of higher interest and value to citizens than the individual offering of forces.  We can gather the best advice and web pages already on offer and improve that which new and exciting content funding jointly by all forces working together.

Neighbourhoods 40/60
This is the area that has seen the most national collaboration with the development of the national Crime Maps and the associated XML feeds from local websites.  The XML feed saw the development of the first national XML schema to ensure all data concerning neighbourhood policing is standardised and can be interchanged either national to local or local to national. In the same way that the National Crime Maps benefit the public from offering a standardised interface, the same could be true for neighbourhood policing.  We need to ensure that whatever the national element of the solution is, there is always the opportunity at the local level to add or modify the pages to suit the local audience.

Docs and Information 28/60
This is a wide area but there is some common ground suited to a national approach.  Thinking of a section a little like a library, we could offer similar content in a standard way.  All the force policing plans, annual reports and council tax leaflets could be available all in one place as well as from within a local data library on a force website.  This could lead to further national cost savings where the design and manufacture of these reports could be streamlined and presented in a similar structure to enable not only the delivery to be similar but also the actual information within the reports and plans.

I'm not going to go through all the other various options, just touch on a few . . .

FOI and access to information page
Forces are increasingly obliged to record all the various FOI requests for online examination. Although this may not need to be featured aa a top-level navigation section, we could create a national FOI publication schema so all police FOI requests can be recorded for public viewing in the same standardised format with improvements implemented to the benefit of all users when they occur.

Police Authorities
Generally, these are separate websites which forces are required to link to at a fairy high level but it is probably inappropriate to link within a navigation structure as this implies the website is part of the police site. Better to find a common location on the home pages where this link can be located.

Young People
Many forces have created a separate young people's website but initial examination suggests they are similar and there could be a single youth website for the police with some sophisticated localised add-ins. This area requires MUCH more work!

Crime Reporting and Victim support
These are too far down the list and are, in my opinion the two most important services we should be offering online.  The reason they do not appear higher is because they are both very difficult to achieve so in many forces, there is no online option at all.  As we progress further into the 21st century, all current services the police offer will have to be offered as an online service too.  According to Google, digital is dead and it has become part of mainstream life so ALL policing services need to be reflected online.  Victim support online should be a service for all victims where the full details and updates concerning their crime is available securely online and also via mobile, text and email updates if required.

Firearms applications
There are several online services like Firearms applications and Subject Access reports which can be offered at a national level with the results being ported to the correct local force based on a postcode or placename lookup table.

Thats enough for tonight - more in the coming weeks!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

More crazy ideas

Two things came up at work today.  Fairly way-out but may just be the next big thing . . .

1. Farmville goes public
I'm not a fan myself but the popularity of Farmville is very interesting.  People rushing to get back to the land in time to water and feed the crops shows real commitment but with no 'real-world' benefits.  They are even willing to share their spare crops with their friends for free out of the goodness of their hearts! My idea is to capture the virtual interest of Farmville and mash it up with a real-world local scenario.  Whht if the 'Farm' was a community modeled on a real community.  People could join their local 'communityville' and get as involved as they like.  It could start by just observing, move up to chatting, on to making comments and eventually getting involved in 'real world' activities. People could contribute to their local community by rebuilding using virtual lego blocks, naming the buildings and places, linking these to Wikis and Blogs.

The eventual idea is to motivate people to move gradually from their computer screens in a virtual world to real actions that make a difference in the community.

Police meetings could be held online and at the real location at the same time.  People can take part by listening in, interacting with video, photos, text and conversation from home or by actually attending in person.

Community clean-ups can be organised, litter picks, fund raising events - all either virtually or in real life.

This is just a vague idea at the moment but I'll add more details as I goe along.

2. Police website - front counter model
We had a great conversation at work today.  Imagine a police website which is a door into a virtual police front office. You enter the site by going through the front door into the foyer.  We see a 3D environment to interact with and a counter with several windows to interact with staff. doors lead off on either side leading to other rooms.  A leaflet stand offers leaflets traditionally offered in a publications section.  A noticeboard offers news items and latest information on offer.  A video monitor offers video clips from YouTube, speaker system offers audio clips.  At the counter, you can interact directly with real members of staff via videoconference, audio-only or live IM.  This allows people to report both emergency and non-emergency info direct to FIR via the web or mobile phone. Another window can offer victims an opportunity to ask for updates on their crime.  This can be via a live operator or an interactive system.  Another window can offer general advice via real person, search engine or traditional navigation engine.  This virtual station would always be staffed, never close and there would never be a queue.

Big things the service needs to sort out

 - Proper way to track people in the system no matter if they are victims, employees, criminals, suspects or partnership workers.

 - Ensure police systems record information suitable to be shared with the public.

 - Call centre which can handle ALL incoming methods of communications:

Telephone calls
Video conference calls
Text messages
Twitter posts
Blog Posts
Facebook posts
Whatever else comes along in the future.

All these need to be condensed into a single input screen and be dealt with in strict order no matter what method is used.  All staff can divert any message they receive personally to the system at any time and a central monitor checks all incoming messages for potential emergency calls.  These get scanned and either actioned or thrown back.